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Ensemble blends styles with ease

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago has, in a manner of speaking, taken on the world: Four dances whose environments range from the moist and hot to the ice-shard cold, and whose styles slip from off-kilter classical to punkily post-modern to ritualistic eddies and swirls.

The 22-member ensemble handles the globe-hopping deftly. And if the vocabularies get a little fuzzy around the edges on occasion, it really doesn't matter. No repertory company can be an expert at every choreographic language, and the Hubbard dancers are so marvelously pristine that just watching their bodies slice through and shape space is satisfying in itself.

The toughest piece they tackle is William Forsythe's stark, beautiful ''Enemy in the Figure" (1989), set to Thom Willems's now scathing, now thrumming score. A rigorous investigation of dichotomies, the dance, for 11, cracks open the meaning of light and dark, reflection and absorption, sound and silence.

The dancers push around a spotlight on wheels, dance behind, alongside, or in front of a curving wooden barricade, and trip a rhythmically thumping rope. Pelvises thrust and torsos reverberate, each movement traveling the length of the body and exiting out the fingertips or toes. Combinations are executed in the light as well as the dark. Light obscures as much as it clarifies, Forsythe seems to be saying, shadows can be as solid as flesh, and movement is simply sound made visible.

Julian Barnett's odd, haunting ''Float" (2003) is a cautionary tale about the thin line between togetherness and dependence, control and caring. A duet to music by Orvar Smarson and Gunnar Tynes, it's full of dislocating hips and tiny shoulder shrugs, accelerating bows and tugs at shirt fronts. It takes poignance to nearly the breaking point when Isaac Spencer lip-syncs into a standing microphone, and Erin Derstine clamps her hand hard over his mouth or jerks his lolling head up by the hair.

Nacho Duato's ''Gnawa" (2005) is a dance of healing to music by six Moroccan composers -- a sensual blend of warm vocals, wind instruments, strings, and drums that conjures up bubbling streams and the beating of the heart. The piece, for 16, seems built on unending circles: In a striking duet, a woman flows under, over, and around her partner like water. Elements of fire (actual candles, and feet flicking through legs) and air converge, too, as the dancers scurry, breath into lush plies, and raise their hands as if in prayer.

The weakest piece choreographically -- though it was performed with aplomb -- was Marguerite Donlon's ''Strokes Through the Tail" (2005). In turn a parody of ballet and a music visualization of its Mozart score, the piece has something of a split personality. Its birdlike movements and hilarious crouch walks -- as well as its dual costuming (the one woman and five men are alternately in quasi-tuxes and flowing tulle) -- can delight. But it goes on far too long, and never really makes a cogent point.

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